Great music can transport us, even into outer space! The Chicago Sinfonietta takes audiences on a journey through the stars with a presentation of Cosmic Convergence at Symphony Center. The program combines live classical music with video curated by Emmy-nominated astronomer Dr. José Francisco Salgado.
Cosmic Convergence also celebrates 10 years of collaboration between the Sinfonietta and Salgado. “They asked me to collaborate to create a visual backdrop for two concerts of Gustav Holst’s The Planets,” Salgado said. “For a couple of years, I had been experimenting with ways to combine science and arts education, though I had never worked with film at that point.”
The program was so successful that Salgado was inspired to start a non-profit, KV 265, dedicated to exploring science through art in the community. (KV 265 is the work number of a set of variations by Mozart on a tune that we now know as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”) “I had the idea to create the Science and Symphony film series that includes video, photographs, and illustrations.” His programs have since been presented in 9 countries around the world to over a quarter-of-a-million people.
“Science can be very intimidating. It can be difficult to grasp. We want to present science in a non-intimidating way.” Video, photography, and illustration “lie at the intersection of science and art,” Salgado said, “because they are beautiful, but also present data.” By matching footage he has captured himself in the field along with other material, he explore complex ideas in accessible ways, all set to music.
The Planets, which began Salgado’s collaboration with the Sinfonietta, is featured in Cosmic Convergence. The orchestral suite has seven movements for seven of the planets in the solar system. Curiously, after Pluto was discovered, Holst resisted adding a Pluto movement to augment the original piece. Little did he know, Pluto would later be identified as a “dwarf planet,” meaning it’s not really a planet because of its size and location. Watch an excerpt of Salgado’s multimedia interpretation of The Planets here.
In addition to presenting celestial classics from the repertoire, Salgado also collaborates with living composers. For Cosmic Convergence, the Sinfonietta performs Borealis, a work John Estacio created in 1997, to which Salgado recently paired visuals. Salgado has also created video to accompany works without astronomical themes. He has combined 90 minutes of time-lapse footage taken from the International Space Station and paired it with the second movement of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique. Since the Space Station orbits the earth in 90 minutes, audience members will travel around the world while listening to one of the composer’s most beloved works.
Regardless of his musical inspiration, Salgado aims to ensure that audio and visual experiences enhance each other. “I always try to edit film in service of the music,” he said. “I want people to appreciate both the original music and the visuals. Sometimes I want to explore a certain idea in video, but I have to cut it short so that it matches the music. If I wanted to do that, I would ask people to write new music to match my video, but this is about creating a different kind of experience.”